When we adopted our daughter in the summer of 2006, I’d only stared at her picture for 2 months and one day before I was able to hold her in my arms. We saw her picture on May 23rd and met her in Nanning on July 24th. During that time, we were so busy buying crib bedding and packing that I obsessed very minimally.
With our son, we hadn’t done a lick of paperwork when we saw his picture. We were quickly approved to adopt him and during the paperwork phase, with a 3 month deadline looming over us, I was so focused on my checklist that I stayed mostly rational, if not a bit testy. Now, with that behind us, I find myself with a good 4-6 months of time available for every kind of worry and paranoia.
The particular paranoia that I’d like to write about today deals with the referral paperwork. Not the checklist pages, but the page where a caregiver describes a child’s personality. I think I have that particular page memorized. I’m quite sure that I can recite it with greater accuracy than I can recite the preamble to the constitution. Worse still, I’ve picked apart every single phrase and analyzed word choice searching for hidden meaning.
For example, the first sentence in our son’s referral: “He is outgoing, smart, active, lovely, and he loves running and jumping.” This is all good, don’t you think? Well, if I didn’t have so much time on my hands, I might not obsess over the word “active”. I might not even have counted how many times it’s used in his one-page description–2. Well, it’s used 2 times and then there’s the word “lively”, which I think counts as another “active”. So, how active are they talking? Active like he might enjoy the hokey pokey or active like international-travel-will-be-a-nightmare? Active like maybe he’ll be good at soccer or active like buy-some-Ritalin-now?
And then the next line. “He can eat alone quietly.” I suppose this is meant as a positive statement, but my question is WHY is he eating alone? Aren’t there other children in the orphanage? Is there a reason he’s eating alone? I picture a big table and one little three year-old boy, quietly clicking away with his chopsticks. It makes me sad.
Moving on, the paperwork says, “He could express himself by consistent language.” On first reading, I hardly paused upon that at all. Now, I have to wonder do they mean that his language is consistent with other three year-olds or that if he calls an apple an apple on Monday, he’ll probably call it an apple again on Tuesday? Am I over analyzing?
And then the qualifier word “some”, which is used often in his paperwork. “He recognizes some regular objects and knows the names and functions of them.” Again, innocent enough, but what types of regular objects are they showing him and which ones doesn’t he know? If someone shows him oh, let’s just say a turkey baster and he’s unsure of its use, well, I’m not concerned. If they’re showing him a sock and he’s at a loss, then I might worry.
Then there are the issues of translation. In this sentence, I think maybe they’re bragging about something special that he can do, something that would make a mother proud, yet, I’ll admit that I’m in the dark. “He can cross buttons by using glass fiber.” It sounds advanced for a three year-old, if not a little dangerous, don’t you think?
“He has strong curiosity and is fond of exploring every unseen objects and things.” I assume this is good. Curiosity is good. My five year-old reminded me though that Curious George gets into a lot of trouble. After the curiosity comment, the nanny was quick to point out that he also has “basic moral sense,” which is a relief. But with some kids in the orphanage, is she reporting that they have “advanced” or “well-developed” moral sense? Is “basic” like the bottom floor in the moral sense department?
And then, after I’ve analyzed every word and every possible subtlety in translation, the nanny ends with this: